As marketing strategies continue to evolve and become more important to brand success, the pressure is on companies to get more creative with the messages they send to their consumers. Starbucks’ “Race Together” campaign, aimed at initiating conversation about racial equality in America, received backlash on social media by many who questioned the effectiveness of employees being required to reach out to customers about such a sensitive subject.

Solomon McCown Senior Vice President Wendy Pierce tells PR Week that “customers don’t want their coffee with a side of opinion” and offers suggestions on how Starbucks could have launched the campaign without alienating consumers.

Wendy Goldstein Pierce, SVP, Solomon McCown & Company: 
While I applaud the company’s interest in addressing one of the country’s most pressing issues via a New York Times print ad, asking employees to engage with customers on the issue is sending the wrong message. Customers don’t want their coffee with a side of opinion, and opening a conversation with people who believe in anything less than racial equality is detrimental to the carefully curated atmosphere of a Starbucks location. Never mind that it could slow down service or create a tense experience for all patrons within earshot.

By all means, Starbucks should and can push a social agenda via their media reach and power, if that is a priority for the company and its leadership. Starbucks can maximize its voice via campaign messaging on cups, on signage in their locations, and in ads to encourage racial harmony to reach their enormous audience. However, it is inappropriate to expect staffers to inject that sentiment along with remembering to make a triple, venti, soy, no foam latte.

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